NBC's The New Normal is a delightful show about a not very ordinary gay couple trying to have a surrogate daughter with a strange woman who has an oddball child and an unbelievably bigoted (and funny) grandmother. NeNe Leakes is also somehow involved. As much as it would like us to believe that this is the way the world works today, like most Ryan Murphy shows it is a celebration of the oddities within all of us. Therefore this weekly feature is both a celebration (and indictment) of all the abnormality contained within it.
Normal: Making a video of your children.
Abnormal: Making a video for your children before they're even born. Seriously, this only happens on TV.
Normal: Jews not having godparents.
Abnormal: Jews not knowing what godparents are.
Normal: Having godparents.
Abnormal: Actually talking to your godparents about god. Mine just send me a card on my birthday. Well, my godfather hasn't done that since I was 12.
Normal: NeNe Leakes.
Abnormal: NeNe Leakes acting! That bug-poop scene was fantastic. She is going to be rich, bitch.
Normal: Having a complex about inferior abs.
Abnormal: Having a complex about inferior abs and looking like this.
Normal: Poop jokes.
Abnormal: Two poop jokes in the first three minutes of a sitcom.
Normal: Talking to your baby brother or sister while it's in the womb.
Abnormal: Talking in Spanish to your baby brother or sister while it's in the womb (and, you know, it's not really your brother or sister, biologically or spiritually).
Normal: To cease going to church.
Abnormal: To cease going to church to spend more time at brunch.
Normal: Not liking Annie Leibovitz.
Abnormal: Not knowing who Annie Leibovitz is.
Normal: A puffy vest.
Abnormal: This puffy vest. (Look at how sad he is. It's because of the vest.)
Normal: Going to confession in a church.
Abnormal: Using one of the boxes with the little screen. Seriously, that only happens on TV.
Normal: Priests making jokes.
Abnormal: Priests making veiled jokes about other priests getting fired for being pedophiles.
Normal: A doctor giving CPR.
Abnormal: A doctor giving CPR to a guinea pig.
Normal: A TV show switching out a dead pet for a new pet that is living.
Abnormal: A TV show switching out a dead pet for a new pet that is living while acknowledging that it is a stupid plot and still doing it anyway.
Normal: Taking your pet out of the house.
Abnormal: Taking your pet on the LA Metro. Seriously, no one rides the LA Metro. Not even on TV.
Normal: Little kids liking old TV shows.
Abnormal: Quantum Leap? That shit isn't even in syndication.
Normal: Thinking things can change.
Abnormal: Thinking the Catholic Church can change.
Normal: Going to church to see the priest.
Abnormal: Going to church to see Mark Wahlberg's abs. That would get me in a church. (And isn't Wahlberg a pretty Jewish sounding name for a Catholic?)
Normal: Making jokes about Amanda Bynes.
Abnormal: Making two Amanda Bynes jokes in 30 minutes.
Follow Brian Moylan on Twitter @BrianJMoylan
[Photo Credit: Trae Patton/NBC]
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In a post-Harry Potter Avatar and Lord of the Rings world the descriptors "sci-fi" and "fantasy" conjure up particular imagery and ideas. The Hunger Games abolishes those expectations rooting its alternate universe in a familiar reality filled with human characters tangible environments and terrifying consequences. Computer graphics are a rarity in writer/director Gary Ross' slow-burn thriller wisely setting aside effects and big action to focus on star Jennifer Lawrence's character's emotional struggle as she embarks on the unthinkable: a 24-person death match on display for the entire nation's viewing pleasure. The final product is a gut-wrenching mature young adult fiction adaptation diffused by occasional meandering but with enough unexpected choices to keep audiences on their toes.
Panem a reconfigured post-apocalyptic America is sectioned off into 12 unique districts and ruled under an iron thumb by the oppressive leaders of The Capitol. To keep the districts producing their specific resources and prevent them from rebelling The Capitol created The Hunger Games an annual competition pitting two 18-or-under "tributes" from each district in a battle to the death. During the ritual tribute "Reaping " teenage Katniss (Lawrence) watches as her 12-year-old sister Primrose is chosen for battle—and quickly jumps to her aid becoming the first District 12 citizen to volunteer for the games. Joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a meek baker's son and the second tribute Effie the resident designer and Haymitch a former Hunger Games winner-turned-alcoholic-turned-mentor Katniss rides off to The Capitol to train and compete in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
The greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is Ross' rich realization of the book's many worlds: District 12 is painted as a reminiscent Southern mining town haunting and vibrant; The Capitol is a utopian metropolis obsessed with design and flair; and The Hunger Games battleground is a sprawling forest peppered with Truman Show-esque additions that remind you it's all being controlled by overseers. The small-scale production value adds to the character-first approach and even when the story segues to larger arenas like a tickertape parade in The Capitol's grand Avenue of Tributes hall it's all about Katniss.
For fans the script hits every beat a nearly note-for-note interpretation of author Suzanne Collins' original novel—but those unfamiliar shouldn't worry about missing anything. Ross knows his way around a sharp screenplay (he's the writer of Big Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) and he's comfortable dropping us right into the action. His characters are equally as colorful as Panem Harrelson sticking out as the former tribute enlivened by the chance to coach winners. He's funny he's discreet he's shaded—a quality all the cast members share. As a director Ross employs a distinct often-grating perspective. His shaky cam style emphasizes the reality of the story but in fight scenarios—and even simple establishing shots of District 12's goings-on—the details are lost in motion blur.
But the dread of the scenario is enough to make Hunger Games an engrossing blockbuster. The lead-up to the actual competition is an uncomfortable and biting satire of reality television sports and everything that commands an audience in modern society. Katniss' brooding friend Gale tells her before she departs "What if nobody watched?" speculating that carnage might end if people could turn away. Unfortunately they can't—forcing Katniss and Peeta to become "stars" of the Hunger Games. The duo are pushed to gussy themselves up put on a show and play up their romance for better ratings. Lawrence channels her reserved Academy Award-nominated Winter's Bone character to inhabit Katniss' frustration with the system. She's great at hunting but she doesn't want to kill. She's compassionate and considerate but has no interest in bowing down to the system. She's a leader but she knows full well she's playing The Capitol's game. Even with 23 other contestants vying for the top spot—like American Idol with machetes complete with Ryan Seacrest stand-in Caesar Flickerman (the dazzling Stanley Tucci)—Katniss' greatest hurdle is internal. A brave move for a movie aimed at a young audience.
By the time the actual Games roll around (the movie clocks in at two and a half hours) there's a need to amp up the pace that never comes and The Hunger Games loses footing. Katniss' goal is to avoid the action hiding in trees and caves waiting patiently for the other tributes to off themselves—but the tactic isn't all that thrilling for those watching. Luckily Lawrence Hutcherson and the ensemble of young actors still deliver when they cross paths and particular beats pack all the punch an all-out deathwatch should. PG-13 be damned the film doesn't skimp on the bloodshed even when it comes to killing off children. The Hunger Games bites off a lot for the first film of a franchise and does so bravely and boldly. It may not make it to the end alive but it doesn't go down without a fight.